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© Copyright  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.

Bairro Alto Hotel Lisbon
Review, design, history and photos of the Lisbon luxury hotel
Article added on February 14, 2012; additional details added on February 15, 2012
Because of the sovereign debt crisis affecting many European countries, Portugal has been covered by many newspapers lately. One of the best and surely one of the most pleasant ways to help states in a difficult economic situation is to spend your money there as a tourist, stimulating the local economy. In Portugal's capital Lisbon, a fine way to do so is to stay at the Bairro Alto Hotel.

The area of the Bairro Alto (Higher District in Portuguese) dates back to 1513. Since the 20th century, it can be reached from the lower city via the Santa Justa Elevator, a structure reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower. The Bairro Alto district was destroyed in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, which was followed by fires and a tsunami. According to estimations, out of a population of 200.000 people, some 30.000 to 40.000 were killed and 85% of Lisbon's buildings were destroyed. To sum it up, the city has seen worse than the current economic crisis. Today, the Lisbon metropolitan area has a population of over 2.8 million people.

Back to the old history: After the earthquake of 1755, Lisbon was rebuilt based on a plan supervised and guided by Marquês de Pombal, Portugal's prime minister from 1750 to 1777. Where the Alecrim Hermitage once stood, a two-floor building was constructed on the site which embraces today's Bairro Alto Hotel. In 1860, after the inauguration of the Luís de Camões Square (Praça
Luís de Camões) with its four-meter bronze statue dedicated to Portugal's famous poet, a floor and a mansard were added to the two-floor building. The zinc-framed mansard windows have been preserved until today. The hotel's gym is located in one of the 19th century mansard rooms. I fondly remember Swiss jazz radio being played while doing my exercises.

Built in 1845, the
structure of today's luxury hotel lodged a boarding house. The French lady Madame Redegonde Gachet made it the Hôtel de l'Europe. It was later managed by Ferdinando Piper and, after his death, by his widow (until 1912).

The Hôtel de l'Europe caught the attention of artists, travelers and guide book writers. It was one of Lisbon's most prestigious and cosmopolitan hotels. Many singers and other artists performing at the San Carlos Theatre stayed at the hotel. The leading actress of her area, Sarah Bernhardt, was among the guests of Hôtel de l'Europe.

In 1919, the famous Lisbon hotelier Alexandre de Almeida, who also managed the hotels Bussaco, Frankfort and Metropole, took over the Hôtel de l'Europe. He renovated and partly modified the building and re-opened it in 1921 as the Grand Hotel de l'Europe.

In the 1940s, it was renamed Hotel Europa and, during the 1960s, it started losing its image and prestige. When the Carnation Revolution took place in 1974, ending the military regime established in 1926, the hotel was already in a critical financial situation. It closed in 1980.

In 2001, the hotel was bought by the present owners and  is managed by G.L.A. Hotels, created by Grace Leo Andrieu in 1985. The renovation took until May 2005 and preserved the essential historic elements of the building. Re-established in contemporary luxury, it was reborn as the Bairro Alto Hotel with some 51 rooms and 4 suites. The rooms on the fourth floor open to a balcony.

Since 2006, it is a member of The Leading Small Hotels of the World. In January 2012, it was awarded the Best Small Hotel in Portugal and the Best Small Hotel in Europe prizes by the International Hotel Awards 2011.

The Bairro Alto Hotel style is the fruit of the collaboration between the Portuguese interior designers and architects José Pedro Vieira and Diogo Rosa Lã from the Atelier Bastidor. They revisited the Portuguese culture and its different traditions in a contemporary retro-style, giving it a colonial touch here and there. Azulejos, the typical tin-glazed, ceramic tiles, as well as wood panels give the rooms a cozy atmosphere. I was told that the doors of the rooms are typical Portuguese village doors.

I stayed in the Superior Double Room 409, but had the chance to look at all room categories. The suites are corner rooms in shades of red or blue. The rooms are divided into four color schemes: Ochre Red, Yellow Lisbon, Blue Tagus and White Linen. The fifth floor features mansard rooms. Throughout the hotel, the furniture was made-to-measure. The contemporary steel and porcelain lamps from Britain contrast with the oval 1905s-inspired side-table. The bathrooms are in a retro-style, with lacquered paneling, marble walls, geometric floor tiling and modern chrome taps. The wood for all the room floors came from Brazil. The bedroom wall space above the wood paneling represents a conventional Portuguese white wash. Each room features a unique hand-painted bird scene by a local artist. The wardrobes are made of American walnut tree and cane.

The Bairro Alto Hotel is excellently located. The Praça Luís de Camões is connecting the Lisbon quarters of Chiado and Bairro Alto. Just a minute from the Bairro Alto Hotel is Lisbon's most famous coffee house, A Brasileira, with its art nouveau decor. It opened in 1905 and became the favorite location for intellectuals and artists. Among them was the poet Fernando Pessoa, whose bronze statue stands in front of A Brasileira. It has become one of Lisbon's most photographed tourist attractions. In addition to cafés, you can also find many Fado clubs and other nightlife attractions in the area of Chiado and Bairro Alto.

Since 1914, Praça Luís de Camões and Estreal have been connected by Lisbon's tram network. Today, tram 28 runs from Prazeres to the Martim Moniz square, with a stop at Praça Luís de Camões as well as at many other of Lisbon's most beautiful sights, including the National Pantheon, the street market (Feira da Ladra), the Lisbon Cathedral as well as the Santa Luzia and the Santa Catarina belveredes. Staying at the Bairro Alto Hotel, you must take a tram-ride!

Last but not least, the Bairro Alto Hotel attracts famous visitors from around the world. When I was staying there,
James Bond's boss “M”, aka Judy Dench ( and, was among my floor neighbors. Lisbon and its Bairro Alto Hotel are worth a visit!

Bairro Alto Hotel - 2, Praça Luís de Camões - 1200-243 Bairro Alto, Lisboa, Portugal.

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View of a bathroom. Photos © Bairro Alto Hotel, Lisbon, Portugal.

View of a bathroom. Photos © Bairro Alto Hotel, Lisbon, Portugal.

The hotel façade. Photos © Bairro Alto Hotel, Lisbon, Portugal.

The Bairro Alto Hotel at the Luis de Camões Square. Photos © Bairro Alto Hotel, Lisbon, Portugal.

The hotel's rooftop terrace with its Rattan furniture and its splendid 180
°-view over Lisbon's roofs and the Tagus river. Photos © Bairro Alto Hotel, Lisbon, Portugal.

Photos © Bairro Alto Hotel, Lisbon, Portugal.

Photos © Bairro Alto Hotel, Lisbon, Portugal.

Photos © Bairro Alto Hotel, Lisbon, Portugal.

Photos © Bairro Alto Hotel, Lisbon, Portugal.

Photos © Bairro Alto Hotel, Lisbon, Portugal.

The hotel restaurant. Photos © Bairro Alto Hotel, Lisbon, Portugal.